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Community rallies around Mitchell Salvation Army Angel Tree program for families in need

"I had a lady call the other day making sure her application came through, and she said ‘You have no idea how much it means to me knowing my kids will have some gifts for Christmas this year.’ That’s why we do this,” said Debbi Middendorp, co-captain of Mitchell's Salvation Army.

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Kira Tronnes, left, and Mya Tupper, right, help distribute food boxes and gifts on Saturday at the Mitchell Salvation Army during the Angel Tree giveaway. Tronnes and Tupper were among the Mitchell hockey club members who volunteered during the annual Christmas event. (Sam Fosness / Republic)
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Thanks to an army of volunteers and community support, the Mitchell Salvation Army delivered boxes of holiday joy on Saturday to those in need during its Angel Tree distribution event.

The Salvation Army provided gift and food boxes to over 170 families on Saturday, marking a slight decrease from 2020. Debbi Middendorp, co-captain of Mitchell’s Salvation Army, pointed to the slight dip in gift boxes doled out this year as a reflection that more people are beginning to financially recover from the pandemic.

“We are seeing a little less families in need this year, which is a good thing. But there are still many in the community and surrounding area who need us more than ever,” she said. “I had a lady call the other day making sure her application came through, and she said ‘You have no idea how much it means to me knowing my kids will have some gifts for Christmas this year.’ That’s why we do this.”

While there were about 30 fewer food and gift boxes handed out this year compared to 2020, Middendorp said the local organization assisted 572 families consisting of over 2,100 individuals over the past year. Inside each food box was a devotional that Middendorp said is a way to remind each family that the Salvation Army’s mission of giving back is one guided by God and faith.

Among the volunteers who helped hand out food and gift boxes over the weekend were members of the Mitchell hockey team. Middendorp said the hockey team has continued to serve as one of the more active volunteer groups for the Salvation Army.

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“It takes an army of volunteers and an army of donors to make this special Angel Tree program and food box distribution happen. The hockey group works very hard every year we distribute, and we are blessed to have the type of volunteers we have in the community,” Middendorp said.

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Mya Tupper fills a cart with gifts on Saturday at the Salvation Army during the annual Angel Tree giveaway. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

For Stacey Hohn, a member of the Mitchell hockey club, spending her Saturday morning to distribute holiday joy for families in need hit close to home.

“I have received from the Angel Tree in my lifetime, and I love to pay that back by volunteering for this amazing program and organization,” said Hohn, as she funneled through the hallway with a cart full of gifts that went to a local family on Saturday.

Joining Hohn were a handful of youth volunteers, who learned what it means to help those in need and give back to the community during the holiday season.

For Blake Sabers, spending some of his weekend distributing food and gift boxes with his kids is a “great way” to teach them the meaning of the season of giving.

“This allows the kids and the next generation to know what volunteering is all about,” he said.

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Kade Sabers, left, and Stacey Hohn, fill a cart with food on Saturday at the Mitchell Salvation Army during the Angel Tree giveaway event. Sabers and Hohn were among the Mitchell hockey club members who volunteered during the annual Christmas event. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

Considering the economic hardships that many families have fallen on amid the pandemic, Sabers said it’s more important than ever for people in the community to lend a helping hand.

“Everything is kind of crazy right now with COVID-19, so helping others out in any fashion goes a long way,” Sabers said.

Bell-ringing campaign marches on through pandemic

While the annual Angel Tree giveaway is one of many programs that the Salvation Army takes on each holiday season, the Christmas bell-ringing campaign is in full swing. As bell ringers have been greeting customers at around a dozen local stores over the past few months, Middendorp said the organization is working hard to meet its fundraising goal of $146,000.

Although the Salvation Army is about $69,000 short of reaching its goal this year, Bill Middendorp, co-captain of the local Salvation Army chapter, is calling on the community to get more bell ringers on hand to make more progress toward the fundraising goal. On Saturday, that call was answered, as Mitchell firefighters and police officers braved the cold 18-degree weather to ring the red bells in downtown Mitchell.

Bill Middendorp emphasized the community donations go toward a litany of the services the local chapter provides to the Mitchell area, including daily free lunches served at the headquarters on Sanborn Boulevard and their food and supply pantry. As COVID-19 infections have been on the rise in South Dakota over the past few weeks, Bill said the Salvation Army stands ready to help people overcome another winter of challenges that could be brought on by the lingering pandemic.

“We never shut down. We actually got busier,” Bill said. “We started delivering food to people that were quarantined, and now our dining room is back open and we’re serving between 60 to 100 people every day. We are ready.”

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Related Topics: CHRISTMAS
Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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